The Juul Fad Is Far Bigger Than I Ever Would Have Guessed

The University of Michigan’s adolescent drug survey announced some dramatic results today:

Increases in adolescent vaping from 2017 to 2018 were the largest ever recorded in the past 43 years for any adolescent substance use outcome in the U.S.

Here’s a chart:

I had two immediate reactions:

  • In just a few years, vaping has wiped out two decades of work getting teens to quit (or never start) cigarette smoking. In 1997, the survey recorded that 36 percent of 12th graders had smoked in the past 30 days. This year, the combination of vaping and cigarette use hit 34 percent.
  • Can this really be true? After three years of relative stability at around 15 percent, vaping suddenly skyrocketed to 27 percent in a single year?

Nearly all of the increase comes from an increase in vaping nicotine, and my skepticism about this disappeared when I looked up revenue figures for Juul, the top seller of vaping devices and pods. I knew that the Juul fad had practically taken over American high schools recently, but it turns out that Juul reported a monster revenue increase of nearly 800 percent between 2017 and 2018 (from $107 million to $942 million), and they control about 75 percent of the market. That’s enough all by itself to account for a huge single-year increase in vaping.

So the answer appears to be yes, this really can be true. Vaping in general, and Juul in particular, have wiped out years of hard work to get teens off of cigarettes. And since most of the increase is in vaping nicotine, it means we’re raising yet another generation of addicts, sucked in by the same kind of marketing that was originally used to suck them into cigarette smoking. What a crime this is.

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This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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